Australia hosts IWC humpback whale symposium

Humpback whale breaching
The workshop will help scientists to understand more about humpback whales like this one. (Photo: Dave and Fiona Harvey)

3 April 2006

Australia is hosting an inter-sessional meeting of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) as it reviews populations of southern hemisphere humpback whales, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell said today.

"It is very important that we have the very best science available on whale populations and their interactions and behaviours in order to understand the extent of their recovery from industrial whaling," Senator Campbell said.

"Humpback whales were driven to near extinction during legal and subsequent illegal commercial whaling.

"Fortunately since a moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986 we are seeing signs that some of our coastal populations are recovering.

"However not all southern hemisphere whale populations are recovering to the same degree and some Pacific populations remain very small and vulnerable. That is why this workshop is very important."

The workshop, being held at the Australian Government's Antarctic Division in Hobart until April 7, is part of a long and exacting review of populations of southern hemisphere humpback whales.

Last year's IWC meeting in Ulsan, Korea, agreed that an inter-sessional workshop undertake further work on a comprehensive assessment of the whales in preparation for the next IWC meeting to be held in St Kitts and Nevis in June.

More than 30 scientists from Australia, Brazil, Equador, Japan, New Caledonia, New Zealand, South Africa, Tahiti, the UK and USA are taking part in the workshop.

"Most Australians share a deep affection for whales, particularly humpbacks and the last thing we want to see is this magnificent creature disappear from our waters once again," Senator Campbell said.

"The Australian Government is strongly opposed to all forms of scientific and commercial whaling and remains firmly committed to development of non-lethal scientific research that will increase our understanding of whales and their environment."

Senator Campbell said that scientists would be sharing and comparing the best available data on the abundance, population structure and status of southern hemisphere humpback whale breeding populations and their relationship to feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean.

"The results generated at this week's gathering will have relevance beyond the IWC, informing on the conservation management of whale populations for all those who value the recovery of this threatened species," Senator Campbell said.